A matter of choice

Universities should not ban smoking on their campuses

According to the New York Times, the University System of Georgia has enacted a smoking ban which will apply to all the campuses of their 31 public colleges and universities. The university system’s Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Marion Fedrick said of the ban, “It goes back to health and productivity. We’re not at all saying that they can’t smoke. They just can’t smoke on our campuses.”

Colleges should of course be concerned about their students’ health, but they should do so by providing health services and resources. For a school to create policies which impose or prohibit certain habits like smoking is to assert too much authority to decide what personal practices students should and should not be doing. Saying students can smoke, just not on the campus, discounts the inconvenience students who do smoke would experience if they want to continue smoking, especially if they live in on-campus housing. Even if the ban is not advertised as such, it still serves to discourage an unhealthy habit.

Some may argue that smoking bans on campuses are meant to preserve the health of non-smokers, not to influence the habits of people who do smoke. Second-hand smoke is a nuisance and a potential health risk with increased exposure. But prohibiting smoking in buildings, including dorms, is sufficient to reduce this nuisance and health risk without being overly intrusive upon student practices.

There are also several other pollutants on college campuses which students could be exposed to in similar quantities as second-hand smoke, such as exhaust from cars and buses, but these cannot realistically be banned.

Fedrick’s “productivity” argument is even more ambiguous than the health argument. Presumably, the implication is that students would be more productive if they are rid of the nuisance caused by smokers. This justification, however, creates a problem that does not exist. The only time a student’s productivity may be disrupted by a smoker is if the student was studying outdoors.

Schools that opt to go smoke free may also risk alienating prospective students who smoke and who think the ban would be too much of an inconvenience for them. In attempting to preserve student “health and productivity” universities can end up coming off as paternalistic. Providing information and resources for smokers who want to quit would be a helpful and health-conscious university policy, but students should ultimately be allowed to make their own decisions.

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